Spring Arts Preview: Seattle Sees Itself on the Big Screen

Two new gigantic outdoor video screens are coming to Seattle for two very different purposes.

You could say Seattle is heading into a season of self-reflection. Come this spring, two new gigantic outdoor video screens positioned in prominent locations will project likenesses of our city—its weather, its landscape, its people and culture—via a stream of moving images.

The first is Mirror, Seattle Art Museum’s new permanent installation (kickoff viewing party, 3/24) by Los Angeles– and New York City-based video artist Doug Aitken. Consisting of a two-story-tall, rectangular LED screen, the piece wraps around the northwest corner of the museum at First and Union. The horizontal band is augmented with thin columns of light that stretch upward along the building façade, reaching almost 10 stories high.

Prior to installation, Aitken shot video around the Northwest, in locations both rural and urban, and archived it in a computer program that choreographs an ever-altering flow. In addition to programmed content, the high-tech screen automatically responds to changes in local atmosphere (wind, rain, heat, cold, dark and light) and “chooses” different images accordingly—which means the video sequence will never be the same. (Let’s hope Aitken has accounted for Seattle’s high incidence of several identical gray days in a row...)

The city’s other new screen of note isn’t billed as art, but perhaps that should be reconsidered. The gigantic high-definition video board at Safeco Field (see it at the Mariners’ home opener, 4/8) looms 201.5 feet wide and 56.7 feet tall, totaling 11,425 square feet, which makes it the largest video board (aka Jumbotron) in Major League Baseball. The ever-shifting images here also reflect a version of our city back to us—our hopeless baseball team, the nonetheless loyal fans and, occasionally, little boys doing the “Thriller” dance. Which sounds a lot like a contemporary video art installation.

But before you become too enchanted with gazing at scenes of Seattle’s beauty (or at yourself on the “Kiss Cam”), just remember what happened to Narcissus, and don’t stare too long at that reflection.